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Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Fertility & Pregnancy Channel
Reported February 14, 2013

Prenatal Folic Acid Lowers Autism Risk


(Ivanhoe Newswire) – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 88 children is identified with an autism spectrum disorder.  Now, a new study is bringing some hope for worried mothers. 
A study that included more than 85,000 Norwegian children has found that maternal use of supplemental folic acid from 4 weeks before to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy was associated with a lower risk of autistic disorder in children.
Researchers say that supplementation with folic acid close to the time of conception will reduce the risk of neural tube defects in children.  It is now recommended that women who are planning to get pregnant take a daily supplement of folic acid starting 1 month prior to conception.  
Pal Surén, MD, MPH, at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, and his team investigated the relationship between maternal folic acid supplements before and in early pregnancy and the associated risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The study examined 85, 176 children who were born between 2002-2008, and taken from the population-based, Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.  The average age of children was 6.4 years. 
A total of 270 children, or .32%, were diagnosed with ASDs: 114 with autistic disorder, 56 with Asperger syndrome, and 100 with pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.  Researchers found an inverse association between folic acid use and subsequent risk of autistic disorder.  Autistic disorder was present in 64 out of 61,042 of children whose mothers took folic acid, compared to the 50 out of 24,134 of children whose mothers did not take folic acid; equaling out to a 39% lower risk of autistic children of folic acid users.
"No association was found with Asperger syndrome or PDD-NOS, but power was limited. Similar analyses for prenatal fish oil supplements showed no such association with autistic disorder, even though fish oil use was associated with the same maternal characteristics as folic acid use. Our main finding was that maternal use of folic acid supplements around the time of conception was associated with a lower risk of autistic disorder. This finding does not establish a causal relation between folic acid use and autistic disorder but provides a rationale for replicating the analyses in other study samples and further investigating genetic factors and other biological mechanisms that may explain the inverse association,” study authors were quoted as saying.
SOURCE:  JAMA, February 2013
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